Rossetti's Venus Verticordia sets $4.5m record at Sotheby's

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Venus Verticordia has set a new world record for a watercolour by the artist, at Sotheby's.

Rossetti Venus Verticordia
The real reason for Ruskin's objections appear to be his own sexual frustration

It sold for £2.8m ($4.5m) in London last night (December 10), with four collectors competing for the work before a UK private bidder secured the piece.

"Dante Gabriel Rossetti was the enigmatic 'rebel' of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood whose idea of beauty continues to enthral. I had no doubt that Venus Verticordia, his most erotic picture, would seduce admirers," commented Bonhams' British and Irish art specialist Simon Toll.

"Unapologetically naked and proud of her beauty, this Venus represent a radical new notion of female sexuality in the mid-19th century. Rossetti understood, worshipped and glorified women, and today's price is further confirmation of Rossett's place in the pantheon of Victorian Britain's leading artists."

The work also represents an important moment in the history of the pre-Raphaelite movement. Leading critic John Ruskin, who was famously prudish and had an unconsummated marriage, objected to the increasing sexuality in Rossetti's work and he was heavily critical of the piece, describing the roses as "awful in their coarseness".

"Ruskin said it was the roses he objected to, but I think it's clear it's the heady sensuality of the picture he couldn't cope with at all - it's well known that Ruskin had a problem with nudes," said Simon Toll to the Guardian newspaper.

This attack on the work lead to the breakdown of the pair's friendship.

The auction record for any work by Rossetti was set at Sotheby's in December 2013, with A Christmas Carol selling for $7.4m. The oil version of Venus Verticordia is housed at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum in Bournemouth, UK.

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